If clichés about gays and lesbians abound in the larger population, there’s another category that’s persistently sneered at by both straight and gays & lesbians: bisexuals. To contribute to the ongoing discussion about that lack of consideration, Northwest Press has published Anything That Loves1, an anthology of often autobiographical stories by a wide range of cartoonists.
Here’s the list of contributors: Adam Pruett, Agnes Czaja, Alex Dahm, Amy T. Falcone, Ashley Cook & Caroline Hobbs, Bill Roundy, Ellen Forney, Erika Moen, Jason A. Quest, Jason Thompson, John Lustig, Jon Macy, Josh Trujillo & Dave Valeza, Kate Leth, Kevin Boze, Leanne Franson, Leia Weathington, Lena H. Chandhok, Margreet de Heer, MariNaomi, Maurice Vellekoop, Melaina, Nick Leonard, Powflip, Randall Kirby, Roberta Gregory, Sam Orchard, Sam Saturday, Stasia Burrington, Steve Orlando, Tania Walker, and Tara Madison Avery & Mike Sullivan.
I found publisher Charles Christensen’s introduction to be illuminating: coming from the point of view of a self-identified gay man, Christensen comments on his own journey, from doubts about the existence of “really” bisexual people to his understanding of other ways to love… other than his own, that is. It’s true that a lot of gay people go through a phase of claiming to be bi, as a kind of first step out of the closet (I certainly did that, for a short time). The problem is that this can lead to believing that everybody who identifies as bi must be in denial, is a way of negating the existence of bi people, the very same thing some straight people do to gays and lesbians.
The stories contained in this book are often very didactic, which was to be expected. The artists lead the reader through the clichés they’ve heard all their lives–see for example Kate Leth’s opening story, a kind of Bisexuality 101.
Josh Trujillo and Dave Valeza’s story is an engaging strip which follows a young man’s life, his growing up comfortably gay and his astonishment at finding himself attracted to a woman. The art is dynamic and serves the ambiance of the story particularly well, with an open ending and a sense of possibilities for the young man who’s still searching for himself.
Of course, things are a bit more complicated (or more interesting, depending on your tastes) than just the combinations of man/man, man/woman or woman/woman, especially when you introduce trans people, as Bill Roundy reminds us. Roundy is a web cartoonist, seemingly gay, who realized he was attracted to trans men, including men who still have female genitalia. That leads some people to question his gay credentials–both straight and gay people. Roundy’s contribution, as well as other stories in this volume, address the question of labels, something that concerns all of us but especially bisexuals, since they don’t correspond to the binary system (are you gay or are you straight?) that a lot of people need to think is the only possible categorization of human love. After reading this volume, one should be thoroughly disabused of that notion.
I was also very happy to see a new strip by Leanne Franson, who years ago did a lot of excellent autobio comics under the name Liliane, Bi-Dyke. Here, she gives us a story of a date with a straight guy who’s nonplussed by her lesbian history. Speaking of cartoonists I’ve long like, we also get a new strip by Roberta Gregory, who was writing and drawing comics with gay and lesbian characters back in the 70s, when mainstream publishers, who now congratulate themselves for being inclusive, wouldn’t even use the word “gay”.
There’s also Steve Orlando (Octobriana), a writer whose work I admire, who writes a short but pointed conversation between two friends titled “Choose”, where one friend pushes the other, who likes both men and women, to accept that he’s gay and just sometimes sleeps with women. And we’re back on the subject of limitating labels.
Though I must admit to wondering about how autobiographical some stories were, other contributions were clearly fictional, such as Leia Weathington’s “Bedfellows”, who brings a new story of her adventuress Bold Riley, where her usually lesbian character finds herself in a land where men and women dress and behave the same way, their language not even possessing a way of saying “man” or “woman”. Bold Riley has a close encounter with one of those people, which makes her question her own knowledge of herself.
Another fiction is Tara Madison Avery’s “Split Spectrum”, a look at the relationship between a young man, his girlfriend and his secret boyfriend. In only 8 pages, the cartoonist paints a complex picture of characters who are both victims of societal diktats and persecutors of others who have something to hide. It’s not an especially optimistic view of human nature, but it’s probably a rather realistic one. Definitely one of the stronger contributions to the book, in my opinion.
On a lighter note, Margreet de Heer’s very funny strip Minnie, about a bisexual woman, follows the title character as she navigates between a former boyfriend and current girlfriend, with her mother in total denial and some straight guys who find it rather interesting to imagine her and another woman having sex. Very lifelike situations to be sure, but De Heer has a talent for injecting absurdist humor into these situations.
I’ve only commented on about a third of the stories in this anthology, but it should be clear that a few strong points emerge from a lot of the contributions: bisexual people exist, not all of them agree to the labels, things are in fact far more complicated than half a dozen labels can make sense of, and that’s a very good thing. And so is this anthology.